Saturday 8 July 2023

The Saturday List #410 - Ten things I'd tell my sixteen year old self

 I've been in a rather introspective mood of late. I was thinking about what I was like aged sixteen. When I turned sixteen, I'd just departed from Finchley Catholic High School and was about to start at Orange Hill Senior High School. I was going to as many punk rock gigs as I could, I hadn't started the False Dots, but I was discussing it with Pete Conway. Lack of instruments was the biggest obstacle. Pete was addressing this by getting a job as a trainee butcher at Dewhursts in Mill Hill. Things were very different. Money was cash, no such thing as cards for scalliwags like us. If you got paid, it was with a brown envelope on a Friday. I had a paper round to subsidise my shenanigans and would assist my Dad at his crash repair workshop MacMetals on a Saturday, cleaning and valeting cars.  If I wanted to go to the pub, I'd go with my sister, to the Three Hammers or the Railway. She'd also come along to gigs with us. She was twenty, so I'd not get asked questions. I was highly insecure about everything. In 1977, the country was in what seemed terminal decline. We'd go on Rock Against Racism marches and I was passionately into what we called "The punk ethos".

But if Dr Who turned up and gave me a lift back, so I could impart some advice to me 16 year old self on my birthday, what advice would I give? When I thought about this, I realised that good advice would address the bad decisions. I don't think I've made too many, but those that I have made, have made life far more difficult than it may have otherwise been.

1. Take your schoolwork seriously and get help if you are struggling. Going to Orange Hill School was one of the best decsions I ever made. I made a few wonderful life long friends and I scraped through O Levels and A levels and got basic qualifications that served me well, almost by accident. I didn't take my studies seriously and a couple of the teachers were not wonderful. For Maths, we had four different teachers in the two years of the A Level course. I failed. Two wasted years. If I'd said to my folks, can you get a tutor to get me through this, I'd have passed. Would it have changed anything? Maybe, maybe not but it is crazy wasting two years on a subject and failing. My parents would have been happy to. I have realised that if you are struggling, ask for help. It doesn't just apply to Maths.

2. Appreciate your Father and try not to argue with him. My Dad died when I was 24 and I still miss him. I spent far too long arguing with him and not talking to him. I wish I'd bitten my tongue, played more snooker with him and taken up a few of the offers he made of expensive holidays in Florida. At the time, I saw it as a good opportunity to get my mates around for a party, as I had the house to myself. I cannot describe how much I regret not being a better son for him. Shortly before he died, we had a curry, played snooker and sat up until 3am drinking scotch as Mum was away. It was probably the only time we had a truly adult night together. I was working for BT at the time on putting the Link ATM project in. He told me that he was really proud of the fact that I'd managed to get a good job and a lovely girlfriend (Clare, now my wife). He said that I should always appreciate that such things are luck and always thank the Good Lord to be blessed with good luck. He said the worst people in the world are those who think they get such things because they are wonderful.

3. You can sing, not in a classically good way and rite songs that are upbeat, funny and personal., but in a way people enjoy. Last year, aged 59 years old, The False Dots performed their first gig, after 44 years, with myself as lead singer. We previewed a new set that we've spent 2 years perfecting and I realised that I'd wasted 44 years, standing to one side playing guitar. I am a bit of a show off and I thoroughly enjoy singing and the crowds seem to like it. Write songs that are upbeat, funny and personal. One of the big differences to the False Dots pre 2022 and now is that the songs we do now are funny and up beat, whereas the humour previously was fairly dark and the songs were a bit too worthy. I genuinely believe that if I'd found our true niche aged 16 instead of 60, my musical career would have been far more fullfilling and fun. It has been a great ride, but I absolutely love what we do now and it is far more of a laugh than anything we did before.

4. There is never enough time. I can't count the number of times I've not bought tickets for an artist or band and they've died/split up. Girls I wanted to ask out at school and prevaricated, only for a mate to step in, places I wanted to visit, only for the political situation to change and it become impossible. We can't do everything we want, but if you really want something, go for it.

5. Don't waste your time on people who don't show you respect. When I was sixteen, I had a massive inferiority complex. I thought I was ugly, useless, thick and doomed to a miserable life. Much of this had been because some of my teachers and my headmaster at FCHS had told me this. With hindsight, I am angry that these people, paid a good wage to lift me up, pushed me down. I have overcome it, but no thanks to them. I genuinely feel some would have been happy to see me jump off London Bridge. I would tell my sixteen year old self that if people are not showing you respect, do not take their views into account. One of my Teachers at FCHS, John Shutter, always was respectful and did his best to push me in the right direction, even though his efforts were not always appreciated or reciprocated. To me, he is the model of what a teacher should be. His example was one I have always tried to emulate, when I've had people to mentor. 

6. Look after your health. My life has been blighted by health challenges and sadly many are self inflicted. I've always kept myself fit, but I've opted for massively stressful work options, drunk far too much to cope on occasions and had irregular sleeping patterns due to work. When you get to 60, it all starts to catch up with you. Listen to your body.

7. Dump toxic friends. This is the hardest and most bitter lesson. I don't have toxic friends now, I'm blessed, but between the age of sixteen and 35, there were some people in my life who caused me untold misery. What puzzles me is why I put up with them for so long. Nowadays, if I conclude someone is not on my side, I don't make a song and dance about it, but I simply avoid them and if I see them be polite and absent myself as soon as possible.

8. Address my anger issues earlier. Many of the bad decisions I've made are made when in a rage. When I was 33 I sought counselling to try and mitigate this. It has been a journey and in truth I am not there yet, maybe I never will be, but the penny slowly dropped. The decisions I make now are better as a result and have been for a long time. When I look back on the bad decisions I made in life, so many were made when fuming about something and sheer pig headedness meant that I wouldn't acknowledge I'd made a mistake. In truth, many decisions, I'd have come to the same conclusion, but I wouldn't have burned the bridges that I burned in the process.

9. Have no faith in politicians. I used to be a very passionate supporter of the Labour party. The lies and deceit of the Blair era cured me of that. Sadly in this world, the only way to really change bad things is through politicians, but if you have blind faith in them you'll always end up being disappointed.

10. Have faith,  it will all turn out good in the end. Despite all of the setbacks, problems and crosses to carry, if I dropped dead tomorrow, I could only thank the Good Lord for the most amazing ride. It has been a blast. I am proud of what I've achieved, of my missus, of my family. I wouldn't swap my life for anyone elses. Yesterday, I was feeling very down and it wasn't the first time in my life, but the clouds have passed. The tide comes in and the tide goes out, problems come and go, but the sun will keep rising in the East. There is stuff to do. The False Dots have a gig to prepare for on 15th September at The Dublin Castle, an album to release, a website to revamp and a new song to record. 

Here's a taster of what you will see if you join us.

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